by Maria Technosux
July 13, 2004 - Stadsschouwburg Studio, Julidans Festival, Amsterdam
You know what kind of performances you are dealing with when you consider the following description of the late twentieth century painter Francis Bacon:
The artist as prophet, Bacon is the extreme voice of despair in which people are totally dehumanized, blurred, decrepit banshees.
While it may be true, as Bacon said, that "you only need to think about the meat on your plate" to see the general truth about mankind in his paintings, no modern artist has hammered at the twentieth century human condition with more repetitive pessimism.
The performance took place in the Studio of the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg. It was divided into two parts, each in a different location in the building. The audience were led to each of the two areas by the co-workers, via a labyrinth of long cement corridors with big white arrows on the floor (the usual lights had been replaced by sheer red ones).
This "maze" included a ride on the Schouwburg's backstage elevator with a capacity of 25 people - certainly the biggest one I've ever been in. All in all, being led around all the employee-only/off-limits areas created a very "industrial" feel, as if we were exploring an unused attic or tunnel. I had to resist the temptation of sneaking away from the group after the show to do some "urban exploration" inside the building of my own! I realize that for a lot of folks, these type of performances in semi-creepy backstage areas are as close as they (audience) will ever get to urban exploration and getting a quick sight of some of the behind the scenes areas. So I compliment the artists for bringing the audience to those parts of the building that are usually inaccessible, but no less interesting than the proper spaces. Some people will say that this "touristy" variant of urban exploration has become overrated, but I think that it is basically a good idea and adds to the ambience that the artists are trying to capture for their show.
The first part took place in a huge, dark exhibition room, with no dancing but lots of diaprojectors throwing collaborating artist Ingrid Baars' Bacon-style photographic manipulations onto the tiled walls: A screaming face imploding into itself, forming tiny, gaping black holes; a male and a female body blurred into a single degenerate entity; a Siamese fetus from a teratology museum/rarity cabinet. A single female ballerina en profile with no head, just a stump of an amputated arm and a single leg with a gigantic tumour at the base where her feet must have been balancing en demi-pointe. Limbs and faces layered and blurred onto thighs and stomachs and other faces, a dancer reaching for his back while his arm disappears seamlessly into his shoulder blades.
Bacon's own paintings never did much for me, but these manipulated photographs gave me the creeps and still remind me of the way Virginia Woolf described pictures from the Spanish Civil War: "... the photograph of what might be a man's body, or a woman's; it is so mutilated that it might, on the other hand, be the body of a pig". If these creatures weren't identified beforehand as the dancers, they might as well be mutilated pigs. Ingrid Baars has taken the Bacon style to which I was indifferent and, using the dancers' bodies, has made it relevant to me.
I thought, this must be what the moment of death looks like: existence, the living flesh collapsing into itself and into the black hole of oblivion. Only later did I realize that, to some people no doubt, these pictures must be a representation of sexual symbiosis, twin receptors spinning into themselves and thus endlessly creating each other. But I wasn't in the mood for cheesy romance. Watch the music videos of the band Tool (particularly the ones for the songs on the Aenima record) for a taste of the atmosphere. These particular Tool videos have similarly appearing semi-creatures in them. All in all, it filled me with a terrible sense of fatality and futileness. It gave me the creeps and I love it for that. I don't want art to tell me that "everything is fine". Neither do I enjoy hyper realistic gruesome art inventing its own elaborate terrors, telling me that "it's as scary in here as it is out there!" I want art that says "I know how scary it is, I've seen it too and this is how I deal with it".
Even the tiny CD players with the little boxes blasting out the "soundtrack" to these paintings squalled in misery. Only later did I discover that the screeching randomness and mechanical howling was once again by Ryuichi Sakamoto! This soundtrack was pretty much the same as the one which accompanied "Warp/Marble" though not as bothersome (so maybe I'm finally getting the knack of this music); it's probably better as a backdrop to manipulated Bacon-like photographic art than ballets.
The second part of the performance took place inside a much smaller studio on the same floor. Video ootage (by Jan Boiten, collaborator from The Conspiracy project last year) is projected onto the dancers. Close-ups of red meat ("carnage" as Linning says), the slimy folds/lips of the drooling mouth of a dog, and fast edited footage (the type of editing typical of Boiten) of fighting boxers and running dogs - subjects which have both been painted by Bacon. The soundtrack prior to Jacob ter Veldhuis', was Trent Reznor's interlude "Video Drones" from the soundtrack of the movie “Lost Highway”; this was looped so that we constantly hear him breathing and whispering "it's OK, it's OK". Ter Veldhuis' sneaky violins this time around are less ironic (as in the earlier ballet "Karpp..?")and much more dissonant and distorted. These violins literalized the "scream" to me much more than the dancing did.
At this point, my review proceeds away from the Bacon theme, because rather than watching two Bacon creatures dance, I was primarily witnessing Linning's choreographic body dance. It was the first time I had seen Linning herself dance in one of her own choreographies. I knew that she had done so before (for example, she did a duet with Bruno Listopad at the Oerol Festival), but I never get to see these shows because I never got to see any dance performances outside of Amsterdam.
I'm still surprised at how "speechless" the confrontation with her living dancing body left me. I mean, this is the body from which several of the most enjoyable ballets I've seen in the past few years have all originated. I have to struggle to find the right words in order to explain the way that I was looking at her. My initial visual motivation was, truth be told, rather banal. I wanted to see her kick a high leg and do a few splits on the floor, so that I could observe how balletic her body is, how turned-out she is. But she did none of that. Instead, it was her partner Emerson Rodriquez Xavier (ex-Scapino Ballet dancer, now a fellow resident choreographer) who kicked the (very few) high legs.
Most movements were rather small, close to the torso of the body, the one of the dancer and of the partner. The floorwork, for example, suggested the fetal contortions of twins in the womb, or the blind young of mammals, newborn kittens and puppies. The duet that followed was the most unisexual Linning duet I've seen so far. She guided him, the entangled their limbs into a ball of human yarn, pulled each other away by the face -- one of my fave movements, because vulnerability and violence are here combined into one. The movements got bigger as the music got louder, but what I remember most were the small, entangled ones, the gasping before the actual "scream" that this choreography was supposed to be according to a newspaper text which I had read in the lobby downstairs.
I thought Linning was a beautiful dancer. Slightly voluptuous, small but very muscular, with short bleached blond hair and big blue eyes. There was such a naturalness in the way she executed all these movements; some of which I had seen before, but stylized excessively onto the balletic bodies of the Scapino ballet dancers, or her own project-dancers. I was struck by the sheer intimacy of my watching these movements coming straight from her body. Gone was the stylization. When she went up on one leg, while she slowly guided the other folded leg around her bended torso, her supporting leg was shaking, very unlike that of a proper ballerina. This may sound like a small insignificant thing - no doubt fetishistic - but it felt really intimate. It is as if you've just heard the voice of your favourite author whose words you've heard only from professional BBC voices. She is no professional reader; she breathes too much, or has a quirky voice, or an accent. But she knows the text so well, that the pauses fall in all the right places and that the irony which no longer stands out is organic instead.
However, there was one aspect
of the Bacon style that I felt, both artists had overlooked: the blending
of the semi-creature/blob into the background. When L3HS dancers' super
fast pirouettes are termed "Baconian whirls", it is this aspect
of the Bacon style that is highlighted. Ingrid Baars' Baconian monsters
are a mass. Monolithic. This is the Bacon of the gore, of the bacon, ham
and spam. The Bacon who said "Of course, we are meat. We are potential
carcasses". In this project, the artists go for this fleshy aspect
of a Bacon without lapsing into tastelessness - which could prompt some
accusations of this performance being a form of "domesticated spookiness".
Most of the audience are my age, so it may be a
But then there is the Bacon who was inspired by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, the Bacon who amputated his subjects not by painting stumps or scratching the canvas, but by blending them straight into the background instead of into their own selves or others, shaken-camera-like, suggesting the ungraspability of time passing by, temporality, restlessness, speed, movement. These are the Baconian subjects that are screaming at the terror of their small insignificant history swept away by the big History. These were not present as such in Baars' series. These Blob-like humanoids couldn't survive outside a lab setting, yet they are still somewhat tangible, in the flesh.
Linning pointed out that this was "a work in progress" that she was still figuring out. Maybe she could explore this latter aspect of Bacon a little more in the future versions of this performance.
Read related stories in the press and see what others are saying. Click here.